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04.12.2018Project Management

User as a Learner: Lessons Learned from a User Experience and Curriculum Design Collaboration

Arin, a coworker in 4-H, and I were fortunate enough to be selected as one of 5 groups to present during National Distance Learning Week at Purdue University this past year. Our presentation was a glimpse into how technical project managers and curriculum designers collaborate on complex projects. The audience were educators in distance learning, so it was important to translate project management processes (along with UX best practices) into easily digestible and manageable pieces that the educators could take back and implement within their own organizations.


Pairing best practices of User Experience (UX) and curriculum design encourages a user-friendly online learning space and upholds the educational principles needed to meet the needs of the learners (De Vries, 1996; Mor & Winter, 2007; Wang & Chen, 2011). Online learning is transforming beyond simply a space for educators to share coursework with their learners. The need to align the design of online learning spaces alongside learning outcomes and learning styles is becoming increasingly important (Rapanta & Cantoni, 2014; Scanlon, McAndrew & O’Shea, 2015; Song, Singleton, Hill, & Koh, 2004).

Non-formal learning programs, such as Indiana 4-H, are ideal candidates for online learning spaces. It can meet the needs of a large learning group as well as allow for ubiquitous distribution, self-paced progress with feedback, synchronous/asynchronous online activities, collaboration with peers across distances, the flexibility of educational delivery methods, and consistent delivery.

The goal for this partnership is to create a learning platform that is responsive to the learners' current needs and allows for growth as needs and technology change. Using the Experiential Learning Model to guide decision-making, we aim to share how we used stakeholder interviews, SCRUM methodology, and user experience design in the planning for an online learning space. This process reflects the current methodology used with an ongoing project. We believe it is valuable to share our process and lessons learned as a part of a continued focus on improvement. At the time of writing this proposal, the online learning platform is in the development phase and not available to youth 4-H members.

The learning objectives for this session are:

  1. The Need – Describe the rationale of utilizing web development and curriculum design principles when creating an online learning space
  2. The Solution – Demonstrate the collaboration of web and curriculum processes
  3. The Challenges with Answers – Discuss the application of processes (current challenges and successes) and recommendations for other practitioners

The first section was presented exclusively by Arin, the second section was co-presented, and the last section was presented by me. Below is the outline that was presented to the committee that accepted our presentation.

We were one of around 60 applicants, according to the moderator of our presentation.

The Challenges and How We Address Them: An Outline

With any project this size, one’s team faces many challenges. Today, we will discuss a few challenges and explain how our methodology is aimed at addressing them.


  • Goals and vision
  • Measuring success
  • Determining if a feature is useful
  • Determining how a feature is implemented (how a user actually uses the feature vs how we think a user would use the feature)
  • Determining if the application is user-friendly


Stakeholder Interviews

Stakeholder interviews are important to help you identify the goals, vision, and mission of your project and to provide you with direction on how to measure the success of your project.

To identify stakeholders, you want to find individuals who

  • Control or influence the project budget
  • Provide permission to proceed
  • Directly benefit from or are impacted by the project
  • Influencers that can ensure project success or remove impediments and
  • Positively or negatively affect the project success based on their energy

During the interview, it’s important to funnel the individual’s answers from open-ended general questions towards closed yes/no responses. This helps you determine the individual’s meaning as an active listener without biasing their input.

During the interview, you want to gather information about what that stakeholder views the project purpose as, their desired results, their communication needs, etc. We can provide our interview questions as a resource if you would like them, as well as sample questions leading from open to closed per subject area.

From your findings, you’ll be able to develop a project scope document that will help you stay focused as you move towards the execution phase of the project.

Use of a Product Backlog and SCRUM methodology

Scrum is a management framework for incremental product development using one or more cross-functional, self-organizing teams. It provides a structure of roles, meetings, rules, and artifacts. Teams are responsible for creating and adapting their processes within this framework. Scrum uses fixed-length iterations, called sprints. Sprints are typically two weeks long. Scrum teams try to build a potentially releasable (properly tested) product increment every sprint.

When compared to other project management methodologies, like waterfall, we use Scrum to

  • Ensure better quality
  • Increase return on investment
  • Ensure higher customer satisfaction
  • Produce higher team morale
  • Develop increased collaboration and ownership
  • Identify more relevant success metrics
  • Communicate clearer progress visibility and exposure
  • Increase project control
  • Minimize risk to the project (Layton, 2017)

User Experience Design

Our team also plans to implement a robust user experience design lifecycle to our project. We plan on conducting the following throughout our iterative process:

  • Persona development
  • Contextual interviews
  • Heuristic evaluations and expert reviews
  • Usability tests
  • Card sorting
  • Wireframing

With these tools, we will have quantitative and qualitative data to back up our decisions and ensure that what we create is user-friendly and useful.

Thanks for reading!

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